Clooney depicts American dream as nightmare in ‘Suburbicon’

Actor George Clooney, center, poses with actors, Julianne Moore, right, and Matt Damon during the photo call for the film “Suburbicon” at the 74th Venice Film Festival on Sept. 2, 2017.

:: Affable, handsome George Clooney was all charm at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, but don’t be fooled.

The actor says his latest directorial effort, “Suburbicon,” is an angry movie for an angry country – his own. It’s a twisted tale of darkness at the heart of the American dream.

“A lot of us are angry – angry at ourselves, angry at the way the country is going, angry at the way the world is going,” Clooney told reporters Saturday in Venice, Italy, where “Suburbicon” is competing for the festival’s Golden Lion prize.

“It’s probably the angriest I’ve ever seen the country, and I lived through the Watergate time,” he added. “There’s a dark cloud hanging over our country right now.”

America’s divisions give an unnerving timeliness to “Suburbicon.” The satirical film noir stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore as residents of a seemingly idyllic – and all-white – 1950s suburban community that erupts in anger when a black family moves in.

Racial divisions

It fuses a script by the Coen brothers with a narrative about racial divisions inspired – in a negative way – by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I was watching a lot of speeches on the campaign trail about building fences and scapegoating minorities,” Clooney said.

That set Clooney and writing-producing partner Grant Heslov to thinking about other points in United States history when forces of division were in the ascendant. They remembered 1957 events in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a model suburban community where white residents rioted at the arrival of a black family.

They fused that idea to an unproduced script by Joel and Ethan Coen about a similar white-picket-fence community where a crime goes horribly wrong in farcically bloody ways.

The images of white rage in the movie feel unnervingly contemporary, recalling last month’s rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Unfortunately, these are issues that are never out of vogue in our country,” Clooney said ahead of the film’s red carpet premiere. “We are still trying to exorcise these problems. We’ve still got a lot of work to do from our original sin of slavery and racism.”

On one level, “Suburbicon” is a comedy, in which the best-laid plans of Damon’s scheming corporate executive go bloodily astray. Damon and Moore practically explode with suburban repression, and there’s a delicious turn by Oscar Isaac as a prying insurance investigator.

Social concerns

But the social concerns Clooney displayed in previous films he directed – “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March” – are never far from the surface.

The Clooney Foundation he runs with his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, gave $1 million in the wake of Charlottesville to the Southern Poverty Law Center to combat hate groups.

Clooney said he was anxious that “Suburbicon” not be a polemic or “a civics lesson.”

“We wanted it to be funny, we wanted it to be mean – but we wanted it to be angry,” he said. “And it got angrier as we were shooting.”

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